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Government Takes a Stronger Stance on Sexual Harassment

As some of the recent cases we talked about on this blog illustrate (link to article about De Anna Granes), in addition to facing long hours, and strenuous working conditions, workers in the service industry can also often face harassing behaviour from their superiors. While some workers are able to obtain damages for injuries to their dignity and self-respect, many more continue to struggle with harassment due to fear of losing their jobs, or perhaps insufficient knowledge about their rights as employees. We find that often employees themselves believe that such behaviour is the norm and that dealing with it is an "on the job" requirement. By amending the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) earlier this month, the government finally recognized the seriousness of this issue, and made a first positive step to provide better protection for employees.

Bill 132 includes a number of changes that promise to have a significant impact on the workplace environment. The OHSA definition of "workplace harassment" now also includes "sexual harassment", which recognizes the extent of the problem. From a more practical standpoint, employers will now be required to have in place a workplace harassment program established with the employer's health and safety representative. This program is required to detail a mechanism for reporting complaints and investigating them. If the complaint targets a supervisor of the employee, or the business owner, the program must mandate a clear resolution procedure involving an independent, third-party investigator. In addition, the employer will be required to notify both parties to the complaint about the results of the investigation in writing, which can then be used in legal proceedings. This will hopefully encourage employers to take harassment complaints more seriously.

To address the pressing issue in the hospitality industry, the government also launched a new, $1.7 million training program for bartenders and servers to help them better understand their rights and how to deal with harassment in the workplace. The training program will focus on educating employees about their rights and how to better identify and intervene in cases of harassment. The goal is to help employees better identify harassment, and better understand what their rights are.

Some workers have already applauded the new regulation. As we learn by reading the Toronto Sun (link http://www.torontosun.com/2016/09/07/finally-harassment-of-servers-wont-be-swept-under-the-rug), one of them is Debbi Smith, the plaintiff in a famous Ontario Human Rights decision from a few years ago. Ms. Smith recovered almost 35 thousand dollars after her boss refused to take "no" for an answer after asking her for a date, and continued to make inappropriate sexual comments about her. Eventually Ms. Smith got fired but her boss continued to harass her via letters.

While it is unclear what the final result of these changes will be, the new regulations do impose a higher requirement on employers, and will hopefully make a lasting impact.

If you believe that you have been harassed by your employer, do not face your struggle alone. De Bousquet PC has a proven track record of fighting for the rights of employees and we will help you obtain the best results in your case.

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